Date published: 
4 August 2020
Media event date: 
3 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LEIGH SALES:

Dr Nick Coatsworth is the federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and he joined me earlier from Canberra.

Dr Coatsworth, when you hear the daily briefing in New South Wales, they are so tight in rapidly tying cases to known clusters. We've heard various theories about Victoria and their problems doing that. What's your view as to what's gone wrong in Victoria with contact tracing?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think there's been a couple of remarkable and important differences between the New South Wales outbreak and what's going on in Victoria. Once the Victorian outbreak was embedded within the community, very much within household groups where they were larger household gatherings, it quickly got to the stage where there were many multiple and geographically dispersed clusters, of COVID-19, really ramping up the contact-tracing demands very, very quickly on the Victorian system. If you contrast that to New South Wales which, after the border closures, was really dealing with point-source outbreak - the Crossroads Hotel - then able to trace those through to the Thai Rock in Wetherill Park and various other places - it is, from a New South Wales perspective, not a more straightforward exercise, it's still equally as difficult but it's able to be done and keeping the numbers between about 15 to 20 per day. So that gives you an impression of the numbers that you can keep the outbreak under control at, and that's what New South Wales is doing at the moment.

LEIGH SALES:

Obviously a lot of hope is being put in a vaccine, but what happens if there's no vaccine? Because presumably you can't keep putting cities into Stage 4 lock-downs month after month after month?

NICK COATSWORTH:

We do have the entire world's scientific community looking at this. We got a head start with the MERS and the SARS coronaviruses, so there is good reason to have hope for a vaccine. But at the same time, we do have to be able to prepare for an environment where that vaccine is not present, may not be as effective as we would like it to be, and that may last for 6, 12, or 18 months. So that is why our focus in Victoria at the moment has to be getting those numbers down under control. To the point where the Public Health Unit knows where COVID is, who's got it, and why it's there and what we're going to do about it. And essentially, what that means is you identify all your cases of community transmission and keep those numbers low, and if you see what's going on in New South Wales at the moment, we've got a number which, while not entirely comforting, is under control from the perspective of not leading to a second wave in New South Wales.

LEIGH SALES:

We've heard from cancer experts that there's been a 30 per cent reduction of reporting of cancers in Victoria, presumably because people aren't going out to get check-ups. Mental health experts also tell us suicide rates will go up. How do we weigh the easily measurable deaths from coronavirus against how many other deaths lockdown might inadvertently cause?

NICK COATSWORTH:

We're acutely aware of all the non-COVID-related issues that controlling COVID has. You've mentioned a few of those. The challenge for public health officials and, then our advice to policymakers, is what we can do to get people tested for cancers and get diabetes or high blood pressure under control. The first step has always been widespread use of Telehealth, which was a major policy step, then the general practitioner takes control in directing people to get tested at various places. But what we also need to remember is that all the radiology firms, the pathology collection centres, even in Victoria, still have COVID-safe plans. They still keep you separated from other people. So it is absolutely critical that, even though I understand the anxiety that it would cause going to a healthcare facility in Victoria at this point in time, people must take care of their health over and above COVID and get those things checked out. If you're concerned in any way about your health, contact your GP via Telehealth and they will direct you in the appropriate fashion.

LEIGH SALES:

Dr Coatsworth, thanks once again.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, Leigh.

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